History Might Turn the NFC South Upside Down


When the NFL added the Houston Texans to the league in 2002, the NFC South division was formed. The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers left the NFC West and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vacated the NFC Central to bring the division count to eight.

Hit the jump to read about how the Falcons are in the spookiest division in the NFL and what that means for the 2010 season.

This is what has transpired in those eight seasons:

NFC South Statistics since 2002

TeamWinsPlayoff AppearancesDivision TitlesSuper Bowl Appearances
Carolina Panthers76321 (Loss)
New Orleans Saints70221 (Win)
Atlanta Falcons66.5310
Tampa Bay Buccaneers63331 (Win)

In it’s inaugural season, the Buccaneers (12-4) won the division and went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. The Falcons (9-6-1) earned a wild card berth and upset Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field before eventually falling to the Philadelphia Eagles.

That’s when things got spooky for the residents of the NASCAR division.

In the seven years since, no NFC South team that made the playoffs in the previous season has repeated that feat in the next. The year-by-year playoff teams shown below:

"2002 – Buccaneers, Falcons2003 – Panthers2004 – Falcons2005 – Panthers, Buccaneers2006 – Saints2007 – Buccaneers2008 – Panthers, Falcons2009 – Saints"

Further spookiness: the team that finished last the previous season has made the playoffs the next season, winning the division in six of those seven years.

What does that mean for this year? If the trends continue – and they have for seven years – this is what we know. Prepare yourself.

The Buccaneers will win the division or win the wild card.

WTF?!? I know. I’m with you. How could this be possible? It does seem a bit far-fetched but as Doc Brown always used to tell me, “Troy, you’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally!”. I got a real problem with that.

However, the trend is a strong one and it says the team that finishes in last place has made the playoffs the following year. This has happened in seven straight seasons. In six of those seven, that team has won the division. That’s a lot of data to contradict.

Also take into account the Buccaneers have three playoff berths since 2002 (tied for most in the division) and have won more division titles (3) than any other NFC South team.

The Saints will miss the playoffs.

The hits just keep on coming. First I say the Buccaneers will make the playoffs and now I am saying the Saints won’t!?!? Once again, the trend numbers are a mountain of evidence. No NFC South that has made the playoffs the previous season has repeated that feat the following year.

The streak has to end sometime but if it doesn’t, the Saints will be the 11th casualty.

The Falcons or Panthers could win the division and/or the wild card.

This is where the gray area begins. Since there is not a curse against the non-playoff teams, the Falcons or the Panthers could win the division or both earn wild card berths and the streak would continue.

How I See It

I love statistics and numbers and trends so I’m inclined to believe them when they have such a long history (as this one does). However, this being a Falcons blog, some minor tweaks can be made while still sticking to the rules laid out above.

"1. Falcons – Atlanta will win the division keeping the streak alive of a non-playoff team making the playoffs the following year.2. Buccaneers – Tampa Bay will make the playoffs as a wild card running the streak of a last place team making the playoffs to eight consecutive seasons.3. Saints – New Orleans has to miss the playoffs, but I can’t put them below the Panthers.4. Panthers – Carolina suffers the worst draw since they could make the playoffs, but the NFC South never sends three teams to the playoffs."

Let me know your thoughts on the NFC South shuffle in the comments or start the conversation on Twitter.